Gods are metaphors transparent to transcendence. And my understanding of the mythological mode is that deities and even people are to be understood in this sense, as metaphors… ― Joseph Campbell
What is a Metaphor?
A metaphor is a “figure of speech” that constructs an analogy between two or more things or ideas. When you understand the underlying premises are a metaphor, it is a valid tool for comparison.
Many people understand that spiritual stories are metaphors. It’s a way of describing something in terms someone can relate to. The story makes the lesson easy to remember. If you fail to understand that the story is a metaphor, you can mistake it for a factual occurrence. And this how the metaphor of God is mistaken for a fact. If you don’t realize the story or the imaginary being is a metaphor, you miss the meaning. Then you derive the wrong conclusions.
God as a Metaphor
It’s a poetic understanding. It is to be understood in the same sense as Goethe’s words at the end of Faust: “Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis” (“Everything transitory is but a reference”). The reference is to that which transcends all speech, all vocabularies, and all images. I think of the more prosaic style of thinking about these references as theological rather than mythological. ― Joseph Campbell
The perfect metaphor is flexible. So, deists use God as the answer or reason for everything. There may be other ways to explain the situation, but God is simpler.
The metaphor of God can hold any unknown. If something is good, God did it. If something is bad, God allowed it, but it is beyond our level of understanding. God as a metaphor is the perfect thing to base the belief in other things for which there is no proof.
There are proofs for the transcendence. Transcendence in the spiritual sense refers to an experience beyond the normal state of waking, dream, and sleeping. It has nothing to do with feelings.
There are forms of meditation that enable one to reach the transcendent. This is the 4th state of consciousness. We can measure the 4th state by its effects on physiology.
When someone meditates and reaches the transcendent state, we see lower heart rate changes and increases in brainwave coherence and skin resistance. These metabolic changes prove that the 4th state of consciousness differs from waking, dreaming, or sleeping. In this pure state of consciousness, one experiences a transcendence of our being absent from the internal dialogue.
Many influential teachers like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi describe the transcendence state as bliss consciousness because it silences internal chatter. But, if you have never had this experience, you mistake the metaphorical reference as a description of actual events or people. Thus, the metaphor is mistaken for a fact, and you create a religion out of this error.
Most Powerful Metaphor For The Transcendent
God becomes the perfect blueprint on which to attach anything unknown or misunderstood. It is a thing of power beyond our understanding. So, we can seek its divine intervention in times of need. We can blame it for natural disasters. It’s a catchall entity. Unfortunately, most people do not see God as a metaphor but as a factual entity.
In theology, the god is taken as a final term, a kind of supernatural fact. When the deity is not transparent, when he doesn’t open up like that to the transcendent, he doesn’t open up to the mystery that is the mystery of our own lives. ― Joseph Campbell
The error which causes this misunderstanding stems from misconstruing the metaphor for a fact. They make this mistake because they lack experience of transcendence. If you don’t understand something but want others to think you do, then you can make critical errors of common sense. When others follow, they believe the error as truth. They don’t understand the metaphor is a reference for the transcendent.
Metaphors Mistaken for a Fact
We hope this discussion provides food for thought. We want you to think about how your beliefs in a higher power shape your thoughts and values. Do you see your higher power as a metaphor pointing the way to a more just and verdant behavior?
Do you believe in God existing in the literal sense? Perhaps not in this world, but at existing on some plane of reality? Do you relate to the concept of a higher power as an actual person? Or do you understand this concept as a metaphor?
Many people believe in the existence of God as an actual person. Many people hold a belief in God as a central part of their identity, and they want everyone else to hold the same belief in the same God. The need to believe is so powerful that it propels them to act violently toward others. But, if belief equaled fact, then all Gods would be real. Think about that.
Does God exist, or is it more probable that people are simply mistaking the metaphor as a fact? Is it more likely that there are thousands of Gods? No, it’s more likely that the stories of and about Gods are just reference points for more transcendent concepts of reality.
One thing is for certain, Approaching the Subject of a Higher Power is something that sparks deep emotional connections in many people. This is because they start from a place where metaphor is mistaken for a fact.
The transcendence is hard to explain to those who have not experienced it. So, using god as a metaphor is a way to help them grasp the concept. The term God is an arbitrary reference for the transcendent.
If someone has not experienced the transcendent, it is hard for them to understand God as just a metaphor. It is an error of ignorance. Without practical knowledge, the metaphor is mistaken for a fact.
Gods are metaphors that provide a focal point. It’s a way to express the attributes of creation and the human spirit in a story to make it more easily understood. For the transcendent to be understood, one must experience it first-hand.
We hope you found this article helpful, maybe even thought-provoking. You will find more interesting posts on our blog page. Use the search option on the blog page to find articles by key terms, topics, or category.
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(1) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia